Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Matthew Effect, the Long Tail, & Music Piracy

While I was on the road a few weeks ago, my buddy José tweeted a reference to this Richard Florida blog posting on pop music and piracy. Florida refers to a BBC article that summarizes a research report by PRS for Music. The research supports a version of the Matthew effect, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, coined by sociologist, Robert Merton and referring to the Gospel of Matthew.

This supposedly counters arguments that technology addressing Chris Anderson's long tail {the majority of music that is relatively unpopular}, as opposed to the "short head" {few hits}, can open up avenues for "indie" artists {i.e., relatively unpopular}. A different kind of long tail is offered to the left.

The main finding of the PRS report is not surprising, i.e., that despite some exploring and geographic differences in behaviours, filesharing {piracy} mirrors the sales charts. They explain this due to of all of the choice on filesharing sites creates too much choice. Barry Schwartz would say that too much choice creates anxiety, which consumer have to cope with. The BBC article notes::
"The breadth of music available means that people do not have time or do not want to search through it all or listen to it all for the tracks that they might like.
Instead their searches are constrained by what they see in the media, and what their friends are listening to."
Do, in this context, the consumer will rely on others, cues, or decision heuristics {mental short cuts to facilitate choice}, such as X sounds like Y, I'll buy Y or buying on the basis of a record label or producer.

The BBC article offers this interesting insight from Will Page & Eric Garland, the authors of the PRS study::
"Given this, said the authors, it might be worth music companies regarding file-sharing sites as comparable to radio and TV as a broadcast network."
I tend to agree with the idea that piracy often functions like radio. Sites that stream music like Blip, iMeem, and function as radio stations, but also function to use social networks to allow opinion leaders and key influencers the ability to shape tastes by being Internet DJs. MySpace Music also allows bands to create a platform for communications, but I'm not quite sure what the long-term future of this is.

So, has Chris Anderson's long tail been refuted in the realm of p2p? Far from it. The technology is evolving and as the web goes from Web 2.0 to Web 3.0, we will see search getting smarter and more efficient. Consumers will be able to find content more readily and through social media, music content can go viral, using social networks and bypassing big media {mainstream recording industry and media conglomerates controlling radio & TV}. I see plenty of opportunities for the "tail," the majority of music is relatively unpopular. Geoff Travis of Rough Trade fame showed how new business models could sprout up in a value-creation vacuum.

Image:: Long tailed stokstaartje/meerkat. I hope Chris Anderson approves.

Twitterversion:: #newblogpost Is p2p #longtail dead? Doubtful. Filesharing might be like radio, but what are implications for indie? @ProfK

Song:: What Shall We Do Next - Club 8

Video:: Live Hong Kong 2004

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